Freedom in the World 2000 - 2001

Trend Arrow: 

Guinea received a downward trend arrow for repression of immigrants from Liberia and Sierra Leone, following cross-border raids by armed men based in both of those countries.


Tens of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as Guinean civilians, were on the move in southern Guinea at the end of the year, following several cross-border attacks by fighters based in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The attacks, which began in earnest in September, have claimed hundreds of lives. Guinean security forces, backed by vigilante groups, detained about 5,000 nationals from Liberia and Sierra Leone in September and put them through rigorous identity checks, searching for suspected insurgents. Human Rights Watch documented beatings and rapes. The detainees were released days later, but the intimidation prompted the return home of thousands of economic immigrants from the two neighboring countries.

The violence has exacerbated tension among the Mano River Union countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Both Liberia and Guinea have accused the other of harboring dissidents seeking to overthrow their governments. The Economic Community of West African States decided in December to send some 1,500 military observers to patrol the border regions to prevent an escalation of the fighting and help protect the nearly 500,000 refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone living in Guinea.

Under Ahmed Sékou Touré, Guinea declared independence from France in 1958. Alone among France’s many African colonies, it rejected the domination of continued close ties with France. Paris retaliated quickly, removing or destroying all “colonial property” and enforcing an unofficial but devastating economic boycott. Sékou Touré’s one-party rule became high repressive, and Guinea was increasingly impoverished under his Soviet-style economic policies. Lansana Conté seized power in a 1984 coup, and was nearly toppled by a 1996 army mutiny. Amidst general looting in Conakry, he rallied loyal troops and reestablished his rule. Conté defends his tight rule by saying it is necessary to avoid ethnic conflict.

Former opposition presidential candidate Alpha Condé, who leads the Guinean People’s Rally, was sentenced to five years in prison for sedition in a trial that international observers said was unfair. Condé and a number of his supporters were detained after the December 1998 presidential elections, which were not considered fair, and charged with attempted subversion.

Guinea’s economy has been suffering from a world drop in the price of bauxite. The country is the world’s second largest producer of the mineral and is also rich in gold, diamonds, and iron ore.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The Guinean people’s constitutional right to freely elect their government is not yet respected in practice. Guinean politics and parties are largely defined along ethnic lines. Conté was returned to office in a December 1998 presidential election that lacked credible opposition as state patronage and media strongly backed the incumbent. His reelection to another five-year term, with 54.1 percent of about 2.7 million votes reported, was unconvincing, although broad manipulation of the electoral process and opposition disunity probably made more blatant forms of vote rigging unnecessary. The Higher Council on Electoral Affairs was neither autonomous nor powerful enough to level the electoral landscape, although the polls were an improvement over past elections. Hundreds of people, however, were arrested after the election, including the official third-place finisher, Alpha Condé.

Electoral manipulation and fraud in the 1993 presidential polls made a mockery of the vote. The June 1995 national assembly elections were more open. A total of eight opposition parties won just enough seats to deny the ruling Progress and Unity Party the two-thirds majority required to enact constitutional changes; but the ruling party’s share of seats in the 114-member assembly was probably fraudulently inflated far above the proportion of votes it received. The president retains decree power that could eviscerate the parliamentary process. Despite cumbersome requirements for official recognition of political parties, about 50 are recognized. 

There was a low turnout in June 2000 municipal elections. The opposition claimed fraud, and protests followed. Legislative elections scheduled for November 2000 were postponed indefinitely. The government attributed the delay to insecurity in the country.

While nominally independent, the judicial system remains infected by corruption, nepotism, ethnic bias, and political interference, and lacks resources and training. Minor civil cases are often handled by traditional ethnic-based courts. Arbitrary arrests and detention are common, and persistent maltreatment and torture of detainees is reported. Prison conditions are harsh and sometimes life-threatening.

Several statutes restrict freedom of association and assembly in apparent contravention of constitutional guarantees. The government may ban any gathering that “threatens national unity.” Several human rights groups and many nongovernmental groups operate openly. Constitutionally protected religious rights are respected in practice, although the main body representing the country’s Muslims, who constitute more than 80 percent of the population, is government-controlled.

The government has wide powers to bar any communications that insult the president or disturb the peace. All broadcasting as well as the country’s largest and only daily newspaper are state-controlled, and offer little coverage of the opposition and scant criticism of government policy. The print media have little impact in rural areas, where incomes are low and illiteracy is high. Several weekly newspapers in Conakry offer sharp criticism of the government despite frequent harassment. A restrictive press law allows the government to censor or shutter publications on broad and ill-defined bases. Defamation and slander are considered criminal offenses. Officials in July 2000 suspended accreditation for three local correspondents working for international media on the grounds that they had tarnished the image of Guinea.

Women have far fewer educational and employment opportunities than men, and many societal customs discriminate against women. Constitutionally protected women’s rights are often unrealized. Spousal abuse and other violence against women are said to be prevalent. Female genital mutilation is illegal and women’s groups are working to eradicate the practice but is still widely carried out. 

The constitution provides for the right to form and join unions. However, about 80 percent of Guinea’s seven million people are subsistence farmers. Only a very small formal sector exists, and about five percent of the workforce is unionized. Several labor confederations compete in this small market and have the right to bargain collectively.

2001 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)